One of Bill McClellan’s readers writes in

Google Alert netted another fine catch:

Democracy seeming like Greek to U.S.

Bill McClellan, July 29, 2011

Not long ago, I wrote a column in which I suggested we select our leaders through a lottery [Stupid vs. immoral? Let’s leave governing up to chance, June 8, 2011]. We would avoid tiresome campaigns and the lies and misrepresentations therein, and we would rid ourselves of campaign contributions and the time-honored practice of buying influence and favors.

It was a whimsical idea. Or so I thought. But one of the joys of writing a newspaper column is hearing from people who know more than I do about the subjects I write about.

David C. sent me this note: “Today’s column made me think of ancient Athens, one of the most thoroughgoing democracies in western history (at least for those who weren’t slaves). They had a system of government very similar to your idea of government by lottery. As the Marxist historian C.L.R. James wrote in his essay, ‘Every Cook Can Govern’: ‘Perhaps the most striking thing about Greek democracy was that the administration (and there were immense administrative problems) was organized upon the basis of what is known as sortition, or, more easily, selection by lot. The vast majority of Greek officials were chosen by a method which amounted to putting names into a hat and appointing the ones whose names came out.'”

3 Responses

  1. It’s very reassuring when everyone who dreams up sortition as a “whimsical idea” think they have invented it — Plato must have been right all along regarding his forms. If it were the other way round would anyone dream up electoral representation and political parties?


  2. “Sortition,” “election-by-lot,” and “democracy” was not THE system in Athens nor in the Northern Italian Renaissance city states, but only “tried out” in those places. The Establishment’s oligarchs were afforded strong footholds of political power which, of course, turned out to be all they needed to regain their full control of everything and everybody soon thereafter. What they employed was sortition only as a side-dish rather than as a whole meal. Greater than Humanity’s need for fairness via democracy is the need to drive out if not demolish the oligarchs and their Oligarchy, and to do that permanently. In all of politics except, possibly, at the very lowest of civic levels, “to elect = to vote” must be replaced by “to elect = to draw.” Patriotism would then me measured not by “did you vote?” but instead “is your name in the hat?” Today’s Election Commissions would be converted into Civic Draft Boards with all the ex-cons, illiterates, physically/mentally handicapped, homemakers, et al efficiently deferred. Partial sortition never took root because the Oligarchy was not destroyed, only inconvenienced for a while. The USA came closest of all (to Republic via democracy), but “closest” wasn’t good enough. Basically, oligarchs are criminals and Oligarchy is, from its inception, a criminal enterprise. All so-called “Monarchies,” “Theocracies,” “Republics,” et al have been nothing more and little less than cleverly disguised Oligarchies.


  3. Richard,

    I think your are close to the mark regarding the Italian city-states, but I think you are wrong regarding Athens.

    > The USA came closest of all

    Why would you say that? When was that golden age of democracy in the US? I think nothing but national-chauvinism could motivate this statement.


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